Snuggled up in blankets and pillows as each student held a hot cup of tea while nibbling on small treats was the perfect vibe on a cozy Thursday night here at the Claremont Colleges. As they all gathered around the conversation pit of Pomona College’s Women Union room, getting ready to share their stories, a sense of community started to unfold between them. Bridging together the gap of lost time during the pandemic and life back on campus, Pomona Student Union (PSU) aimed to foster a culture of active citizenship and empathic dialogue across all 5C students through their new series “Story Hour.”
This week’s theme: “Traditions that Anchor You.” Whether these traditions embody annual family get-togethers or consist of the playful ones that bring out our little quirks were all encouraged during the event. Attendees shared their stories, ranging from going on long walks up and down their driveway to reconnecting to their lost ancestry of their homeland.
Co-presidents of PSU, David Ruiz PO ’24 and Aditya Bhalla PO ’23 along with board member Trisha Gongalore PO ’25 put together this series in hopes to foster dialogue on current and critical issues going on in the world, in academia, or in the 5C community, while establishing a forum for people to talk about current events and learn from one another.
“It kind of just came from having dinner with friends. It’s been something that really anchored me during my time here at Pomona.” Gongalore said. “Our conversations span more than just what’s happening in our personal lives but also just about policy and climate change. I guess those conversations made me realize the power of storytelling, because it wasn’t just like conversations about these things unlike on a policy level, it was also about hearing the personal stories like the anecdotes that really made these topics feel real and relevant.”
Gongalore saw a lack in public spaces at Pomona where students can take the opportunity to share their stories in an environment that feels safe to them while being heard by others.
“But I think creating a space where even strangers can come together and share those thoughts was really what I wanted to come out of this event and I hope we did that today,” Gongalore said.
“We are still in a strange time where a lot of people are feeling isolated, but also where we haven’t acknowledged what we’ve been through as a community,” Ruiz said. We’re really hoping to establish that space and to open that to all students from all over the 5Cs to remember that we are still going through it and we’re still getting into the rhythm of life as students and just as human beings.”
“I think as important as academics are or traditional PSU events can be, I think that events like these open up spaces that are really really needed on campus right now and I’m really happy that we’re able to provide such a space.”
As a storyteller himself, Ruiz talked about how running has guided him as a hobby through not just one of the most difficult times of his life, but also some of his best moments. From the beginning stages of the pandemic, to taking his gap year and traveling across the country to work in politics and activism, Ruiz happily continues to run in the mornings around the campuses.
“While PSU can be really informative for students and provide some sort of academic insight for students, it wasn’t really serving the needs of the student body as it’s needed right now,” Bhalla said.
Being co-president as well as a student on campus before the pandemic, Bhalla also noticed that there has been a lack of community on Pomona’s campus upon returning. Pre Pandemic, Bhalla would often host game nights where he and his friends would play Poker or Catan as a way of spending time with one another, developing a sense of community. This inspired him to share his story about his tradition of “game-nights” that’s been anchored to his college experience since his sophomore year.
“That’s been a tradition over the past two years and one of my core memories I’m going to have of college” Bhalla said.
Spending his last semester at Pomona, Bhalla strives to bring this sense of community to all students across the 5Cs.
“I think as important as academics are or traditional PSU events can be, I think that events like these open up spaces that are really really needed on campus right now and I’m really happy that we’re able to provide such a space” Bhalla said.
As a Speaking Partner at Pomona’s Center for Speaking, Writing, and the Image (CSWIM), Ally Huang PO ’25 attended this event in hopes to partner up with PSU and encourage open dialogue between Pomona students.
“I’ve really enjoyed events like open mics and talk-stories in the past, and also have been meaning to spend more time in the Women’s Union ––a very lovely space! –– so I thought I would come by and observe, taking some notes for the CSWIM,” Huang said. “I wasn’t actually expecting to share a story of my own, but I was really inspired by the other attendees and the energy felt very accepting.”
Huang opened up, sharing her story of building her relationship with her mother through dinner meals.
“Even though we all discussed our personal, highly individualized experiences, I realized there were a lot of common threads that wove through multiple stories,” Huang said. “There was something I could resonate with in every person’s words, and it was so lovely to see others’ passion as they talked about something deeply important to them.”